Like many in the craft beer world, I only discovered the magic of lager in the past few years. For me, first there was Pilsner Urquell straight from the tank, with its trademark butterscotch whiff. Then there was Lost & Grounded’s Keller Pils, which I began drinking with abandon. Now – following offerings from Donzoko, Braybrooke, and other upstarts – I’ve become a true devotee of the crispy boi.
Donzoko’s Northern Helles is the brewery’s flagship, and what a thing of beauty it is. Featuring a delicately sweet grain profile – even a hint of nuttiness – it’s lightly hazy and pours a big, frothy crown of foam. Unlike your classic helles, it’s dry-hopped with Kiwi hops, which lends it a touch more bitterness than you might expect, plus a lightly floral aroma.
It’s the kind of beer I could see stocking in my fridge as a go-to – blissful after work, or shared in the park on warm days, or when settling in to watch the latest hyped prestige TV series. I can also testify it’s excellent at the dinner table – particularly with a dish like this pearl couscous.
Pearl couscous is one of the most-cooked dishes in my repertoire - it’s quick, versatile and distinct from your typical pasta. Here, I dress it up with slow-roasted tomatoes and aubergines, a small mountain of herbs, pine nuts, feta and sumac. During stretches of unexpected autumnal warmth, you can pack it away in a basket and bring it on a picnic and serve it at room temperature as an alternative to pedestrian pasta salad. You also can – and should – eat it when freshly made and still steaming, preferably straight out of the pot and with the assistance of a wooden spoon.
Both the couscous and the beer are matched in intensity and share that pleasingly nutty quality (lightly toast your couscous in oil before boiling is my tip). The beer’s gentle bitterness and carbonation also make it a foil for the olive oil-soaked aubergines and the feta crumbles. If neither party offers fanfare, they’re both emblematic of the importance, and deep satisfaction, of quotidian pleasures.
Pearl Couscous with Roasted Aubergines and Tomatoes
For the aubergines:
2 medium aubergines
2–3 teaspoons fine sea salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sumac
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
For the tomatoes:
10 medium, vine-on tomatoes
2–3 tablespoons olive oil
1–2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
15 thyme sprigs
For the couscous:
500g pearl couscous
2–3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional
Fine sea salt, to taste
100g pine nuts
Large handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Large handful fresh mint, roughly chopped
Large handful fresh oregano, roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Prep the aubergines 30 minutes before you plan to start cooking. Slice each eggplant thinly and sprinkle generously with sea salt on both sides. Set aside for 30 minutes; they will release a good quantity of liquid.
2. Preheat your oven to 200° Celsius (395° Fahrenheit). Place the aubergine slices between two pieces of kitchen roll and press firmly until as much water is released as possible. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the aubergine slices in a flat layer. Drizzle over the olive oil and season with the sumac and pepper.
3. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper. Halve your tomatoes and arrange in a single layer, cut-sides up. Drizzle over the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Scatter over the thyme sprigs.
4. Place both baking sheets in the oven and cook for approximately 30 minutes. Halfway through cooking time, rotate the baking sheets; using a pair of tongs, flip the aubergine slices (the tomatoes can remain cut-side up throughout cooking). The aubergines and tomatoes are done when they’re golden brown and very soft. Remove from the oven and set aside.
5. Meanwhile, start cooking the couscous. Add 2–3 tablespoons olive oil to a large saucepan and place over medium-high heat. When hot, add the couscous. Cook for approximately 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden and lightly toasted. Pour over boiling water and season generously with salt. Cook for roughly 15 minutes, or until al dente. Drain.
6. While the couscous cooks, toast the pine nuts. Place a small frying pan over medium heat and add the pine nuts when hot. Cook, tossing frequently, for approximately 5 minutes, or until golden-brown and fragrant. Remove from the heat and set aside.
7. Return the drained couscous to the pot. Grate over the zest of the 2 lemons; halve and squeeze over the juice. Drizzle over 1–2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Add the chopped herbs and the black pepper, and stir to evenly combine. Once slightly cooled, crumble over the feta and stir through.
8. Just before serving, transfer the cooked aubergines and tomatoes to the couscous and stir until just mixed through. Serve while still warm or at room temperature.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen.